The three main devices (symbols) in the Carlow blazon are the leopard’s face, annulet and spear. The three main tinctures (colors) are azure, sable and argent .
The bright, strong blue color in Heraldry is known in English as azure, and similarly in other European languages – azul in Spanish, azurro in Italian and azur in French. The word has its roots in the Arabic word lazura, also the source of the name of the precious stone lapis lazuli 1. Despite this, those heralds who liked to associate colours with jewels chose instead to describe blue as Sapphire. According to Wade, the use of this colour symbolises “Loyalty and Truth” 2.
Sable, the deep black so often found in Heraldry is believed to named from an animal of the marten family know in the middle ages as a Sabellinœ and noted for its very black fur 3. In engravings, when colors cannot be shown it is represented as closely spaced horizontal and vertical lines, and appropriately is thus the darkest form of hatching, as this method is known 4. Although it may seem a sombre tone, and does indeed sometimes denote grief, it is more commonly said to represent Constancy 5.
Argent is the heraldic metal Silver and is usually shown as very pure white. It is also known more poetically as pearl, moon (or luna) 6. In a sketch or drawing it is represented by plain, unmarked paper 7.
The leopard’s face (sometimes, incorrectly referred to as a leopard’s head occurs very frequently in heraldry 8. Early heraldic artists tended to treat lions and leopards as the same animal, but during the development of British Heraldry the heads of the two creatures have adopted separate, and more realistic forms. Wade would have us associate leopards with warriors, especially those who overcome ”hazardous things by force and courage” 9
For easy recognition of the items on a coat of arms, and hence the quick identification of the owner, bold simple shapes are best. Hence, simple geometric shapes are often used for this purpose 10xz`, and the annulet is a good example, being a circular ring of any colour. They also appear interlaced or one within the other, both of which are very pleasing additions. Wade believes that these were one of the symbols of ancient pilgrims. 11
Given the martial nature of the origins of Heraldry, in the identification of knights and men-at-arms it can come as no surprise that mediaeval weaponry of all types are frequently to be found in a coat of arms 12. The spear or lance is a typical example, often borne (for obvious reasons) in allusion to the crucifixtion. 13 Sometimes only the head is shown, and on other occasions the tilting or tournament spear is specified, familiar to us from many a jousting scene in the movies. 14